WALLINGFORD — Leadership of a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post is standing by a senior officer and former Ku Klux Klan leader, despite a recent social media post that was condemned by a U.S. Army Commander.
Michael A. Del Monaco, commander of VFW Post 591 on Prince Street, said he is more concerned about the work Scott E. Palmer, the post’s senior vice commander, has done for the VFW and not his former leadership of the KKK or the recent social media post.
“All I can do is commend him on what he’s done,” Del Monaco said. “Look at what he’s done for the VFW to help veterans.”
Palmer did not return multiple requests for comment. Del Monaco said Palmer, a veteran, is going through therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and also to reform his beliefs. Del Monaco said Palmer believes commenting for this story would be detrimental to his progress.
In the 1990s, Palmer ran a Meriden-Wallingford chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and was convicted of multiple hate crimes against minority groups, according to archived news stories and court documents.
Del Monaco said he wasn’t aware of Palmer’s involvement with the KKK until recently.
“Personally I’m not going to look at his past. I don't care about his past,” Del Monaco said. “He has demons that are bothering him and he tries to control them but at times he can't. He’s trying to forget the past and change his life and his way of thinking. I can do nothing but commend him for that.”
An active duty U.S. Army commander contacted the Record-Journal earlier this month with concerns about comments he said Palmer made recently on Facebook and his past Klan involvement.
“I am sickened that a VFW Post, which has in its mission the charge to ‘advocate on behalf of all veterans’ would allow a former Klan leader, who obviously still holds and publicly expresses racist feelings, to represent local veterans,” he said in an email. The active duty commander spoke on condition of anonymity because his comments were not authorized by the military. The Record-Journal verified his military status.
He said he started looking into Palmer’s background after Palmer, commenting on Facebook as Klaus E. Palmer, defended the actions of an Air Force reservist who was caught on video with friends saying they were “n— hunting.”
“She spoke what was on her mind, given the circumstances,” the comment read. “All races do it. It’s what allowed tribes of people to survive and concur (sic). It applies today. Liberals have taken all the fun out of living.”
The comments have since been deleted from Facebook. The commander provided screen shots of the comments to the Record-Journal.
Asked about the comments, Del Monaco, the VFW commander said: “I think everybody is allowed to express their viewpoint ...Why would we take action against him?”
Palmer, who once identified himself as the Klan’s “Great Titan,” was one of several Klansmen arrested as a part of an investigation in the mid-1990s by local, state and federal law enforcement into a rising number of hate crimes in the Wallingford area.
Palmer was convicted in 1993 of intimidation based on bigotry, a felony, for punching a customer outside a gay bar, “Choices” on North Turnpike Road, based on the customer’s sexual orientation, according to archived reports. In a separate incident, he also pleaded guilty to intimidation based on bigotry for yelling ethnic slurs at a group of five men of Mexican descent. Following his federal convictions, Palmer was again arrested for possessing a firearm and ammunition. Convicted felons are prohibited from having firearms.
While incarcerated, Palmer mailed a drawing to a Klan member of a skull and crossbones with the words, “White Power,'' and a note, “Kill all the n— for Santa Claus.” Palmer also mailed a smaller drawing with a noose, burning cross and the words, “Lynch Mob Wallingford, CT.” Authorities intercepted the letters. Palmer sent the sketch from jail on or around the same day that a local priest met with Palmer and got the impression Palmer had reformed.
“I left there with the belief that Scott can go back to a normal life,'' the Rev. Mark R. Jette of St. Joseph Church in Meriden told U.S. District Judge T.F. Gilroy Daly, the Hartford Courant reported in 1994.
Palmer is the second-highest ranking officer of the local VFW organization, with 266 members, and was elected to the position by fellow members. The nonprofit veterans service organization has been visible and heavily involved in the community over the years by organizing fundraisers and other events, marching in town parades and sponsoring little league teams.
“He and his wife are great assets to the VFW,” Del Monaco said about Palmer. “They’ve donated hundreds and hundreds of hours to veterans and the community. They are very active, and they're very well liked throughout the VFW and the Wallingford community.”
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP, called the organization's decision to stand by Palmer “appalling.”
“There’s a deep-rooted history of racism in Wallingford and there's also a long history of the KKK in Wallingford,” Esdaille said. “It’s a shame that nothing really has changed. This is deeply disheartening and appalling that in 2018 you have people in a leadership position in the VFW that are supporting this.”
Esdaile said it’s “hypocritical” for the VFW to stand by Palmer.
“The VFW represents fighting for American rights, civil rights and for them to support this type of racism is very hypocritical. And the leadership of the VFW, on the national level, needs to step in,” Esdaile said.
Joe Davis, a spokesman for the national VFW, said the organization asked Palmer to delete the comments on social media but added the nonprofit has no concerns about Palmer’s role as senior vice commander going forward.
“He was first elected to serve as the post junior vice commander before being elected to senior vice. If there were concerns he wouldn’t have been nominated or elected,” Davis wrote in response to an email from the Record-Journal.
Davis added, “The VFW salutes all who serve, especially when the vast majority of Americans don’t. Our military is great because of its diversity; our country, too.”
Esdaile said Palmer’s effort to reform himself through therapy and his PTSD doesn’t excuse his social media comments..
“We will not let people use mental health issues as an excuse,” Esdaile said. “If he has an issue he needs to go get help, but he should not be representing the VFW.”
The town government’s veterans service officer, George Messier, who occasionally works with the VFW Post, declined to comment for this story, saying he wasn’t aware of Palmer’s comments on social media and he’d “like to keep it that way.”